Florida City Forecloses on Home after $30,000 Long-Grass Fine

‘Dunedin’s Code Enforcement Board operates like a nightmarish homeowners association, but as a public board, it cannot rule with an iron fist…’

Florida City Forecloses 69-Year-Old Man's Home for $30,000 Long-Grass Fine

Jim Ficken / PHOTO: Institute for Justice

(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) Officials in Dunedin, Fla., authorized a home foreclosure against a 69-year-old man who amassed $30,000 in fines for having long grass.

Jim Ficken, with the help of the Institute for Justice, is suing the city to prevent it from levying excessive fines for trivial matters, to protect his home, and to lower the $30,000 fine.

The city of Dunedin began to fine Ficken last summer when he went out of town to manage the property of his mother, who had died.

He asked a friend to care for his law while he was gone, but the friend died unexpectedly, IJ reported.

Ficken’s grass soon reached 10 inches tall, and without notifying Ficken the city began to fine him $500 for each day the grass was not cut.

When Ficken returned home he realized that the fine had reached $30,000, and since he lives on a fixed income he could not afford it.

“Losing your home because you inadvertently let your grass get too long is the very definition of an excessive fine,” said Ari Bargil, an attorney at the Institute for Justice.

“No one should face crippling fines, let alone foreclosure, for trivial code violations,” Bargil said. “Dunedin’s Code Enforcement Board operates like a nightmarish homeowners association, but as a public board, it cannot rule with an iron fist. Rather, it must abide by state laws, as well as the state and federal Constitution.”

IJ filed the lawsuit in the Pinellas County Court, arguing that the ordinance fines violate the excessive fines clauses in both the U.S. Constitution and the Florida Constitution.

“Jim asked the city if they would reconsider and give him a fair fine or a new hearing, but they rejected him,” Bargil said. “Now they are trying to take his home. But the amount of Jim’s fine is wildly out of proportion to the offense of having long grass. The Institute for Justice will defend Jim’s constitutional right to be free from this excessive fine so that he can keep his home.”

Dunedin’s earnings from code enforcement have increased substantially in the past decade.

In 2007, the city of about 35,000 people collected $34,000 in fines.

In 2017, the city collected $700,000

By 2018, Dunedin slapped city residents with $1.3 million in fines that led to 18 home-foreclosure authorizations.